Money Matters: How to Deal with a Cheap Boyfriend

Daniel Bagley
Bored couple drinking coffee in a kitchen

Watching those credit card bills build up at an alarming rate because of all the dates you and your boyfriend go on? Dealing with a guy who makes more money than you but never picks up the tab? Chances are you could be dealing with a cheap boyfriend. Here’s what to do about it!

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Warning Signs of a Cheap Boyfriend

Today’s relationships are marked by uncertainty when it comes to a topic like money. Before feminist efforts began establishing women’s equality with men, the boyfriend’s role was clear. He was the provider. Now, it’s not necessarily a given for the man to pick up the tab on a date. But it’s not just dates we’re talking about here — perhaps your boyfriend is constantly worried about spending money, going beyond the normal “this is what I can afford and what I can’t afford” conversation.

If this sound like your boyfriend, and you feel uncomfortable about this pattern in your relationship, that’s completely natural. If this were a matter of male/female equality, you might feel empowered instead of depended upon. If the matter is that he prefers you to pay simply because he wants to avoid spending money most (if not all) of the time, you may have a problem.

Red Flags: Warning Signs Your Boyfriend Is Cheap

Here are some sure signs your boyfriend is cheap:

  • You have a hard time remembering any dates that didn’t end with him asking you if you can pay the bill.
  • Money is a recurring issue with him and you have gotten into arguments about it plenty of times.
  • You don’t go out very often (read:never) because he doesn’t want to spend money. When you do go out, the money issue is his primary concern as far as the destination goes.
  • He actually asks you for money quite a bit and tends to rely on you for stuff. If you borrow money from him, he’s asking you to pay him back the next day.

These things can add up until you want to pull your hair out. But before you call it quits, there’s something to carefully consider.

Is Your Boyfriend Being Cheap or Frugal?

There’s a difference between being frugal and being cheap. The frugal boyfriend is trying to save money for a specific reason. Maybe he suffered a financial setback that limits his spending right out of the gate., or maybe he has a pretty limited budget by default. Or, perhaps he has a long-term goal that requires a big stash of cash. And maybe, just maybe, he’s setting aside money without telling you because he’s planning a surprise getaway or something even more monumental — he could be preparing to pop the question!

When it comes to the big moments, a frugal boyfriend doesn’t hesitate to make his money count. Typically, frugal guys save for the big stuff. A cheap boyfriend, on the other hand, doesn’t throw his hat in the ring. He buys the least expensive gifts and the big moments never arrive.

It’s important to understand this difference. A frugal boyfriend who has a personality you really love is a keeper. A cheap boyfriend’s stinginess is a feature of his personality and trying to make him change is more trouble than it’s worth. According to Psychology Today, researchers from Columbia University and University College of London found that “socially undesirable traits go hand-in-hand with undesirable financial behaviors — and vice versa.” If he continues being cheap, it’ll be a “socially undesirable trait” you have to deal with in a long-term relationship. If you fight about it frequently, you’re 30 percent more likely to break up.   

When to Split vs. Split the Bill

Hold on: this isn’t a matter of dumping him out of frustration and resentment. First, you have to figure out if stinginess is really a deeply ingrained personality trait, or if he fell into this pattern out of complacency and a lack of self-evaluation. In other words, he may just need a wakeup call.

Dr. Jenn Mann recommends the “sandwich technique”:

  1. Bring up some positive traits you do like about him and give him examples.
  2. Present your feelings about his penny pinching ways. Connect these feelings to a personal detail about yourself to provide deeper context as to why you feel this way. Be sure to impress the depth of your feelings upon him.
  3. End the discussion by expressing your love and appreciation for his willingness to listen.

Instead of arguing about him being cheap, you’re positively reinforcing his good traits and contrasting them with the trait you find undesirable.  

Give It Some Time — But Not Very Much

Perhaps the effort you took to recall his good traits cut through your irritation. Concentrate on these good qualities and keep reinforcing them with compliments as the relationship continues. It won’t take very much time for you find out whether he took the conversation to heart. If he continues being exactly how he was before when it comes to money, then you know it’s a feature of his personality and he’s not interested in changing.

Now it’s time to evaluate how big of a deal this really is to you. Everyone has faults. Personalities develop habits due to layer upon layer of experience, like a shoreline shaped by waves. Are his positive traits endearing enough to offset his overly scrupulous nature? Has he at least stopped mooching on you?

At the core, you must decide whether this is about money, or something deeper. If it’s about personality — or as some might put it, “lifestyle” — then tell him it’s not working. Personality clashes are deadly unless someone decides to change, and you can’t make him change. If it’s more about money than anything else, then think twice about breaking up with a frugal boyfriend who has other great characteristics.

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